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The Flaneur: Moto Journal Day 1 — Settling into the Ride

The first in a seven-part series.

After three days of running around Dharamshala I’ve finally got all my gear. All together it weighs about 20 kilos: clothes, camera equipment, notebooks, first aid, hash, spark plugs, tools, tire tubes, clutch cables and other spare parts for the inevitable breakdowns in the middle of nowhere. I’ve fit it all into two old rucksacks and strapped them into the bars on either side of the wheel. This weight makes the bike drive wobbly as it accelerates, but once it gains speed things even out.

It took awhile to get the balance just right, but now things are set. The luggage is finally strapped to the 350cc Royal Enfield.

I go into the toilet to put on my riding gear: padded trousers, an armored jacket with burn holes in the sleeves, steel-toed boots, Gortex gloves, a keffiyeh to tie around my face for dust. Then I walk up the hill and lean on my bike waiting for M-. Continue Reading…

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Nowhereland: The Zen of Sir Alfred

For 18 years, Mehran Katrimi Nasseri, who called himself Sir Alfred Mehran, occupied his corner of Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport with a zen-like resignation to the quiet trappings of routine. It’s been said that if he wasn’t reading from books on politics, he could be seen sitting, staring, on his red bench between a mound of cargo boxes, his mustache impeccably trimmed and his gaze steadied beneath a heavy brow, watching travelers rush to and from their final destinations.

 

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Legends: Muttnik

Photo from Wikipedia.

Just a week after Russia beat the United States to the race to reach space a decade into the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered another rocket launched into orbit to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. In a ruthless rush to capture the world’s attention with another first, the idea to blast a living being into outer space — a dog, named Laika — became plausible, and Soviet engineers clamored to find a way to do it. They had only three weeks.

Continue Reading…

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Objects: Fairy Stone

We’re collectors: stamps, postcards, matchbooks, magnets, the myriad small things that accumulate while traveling. Our far-flung friends send us photos of a treasure they came across, with a description of why it caught their eye.

***

Good luck stone, ancient mud fossilized in the North of the North, where few of us go, where few are born. I did not find it there: I found it in a gallery in Montreal where I go as often as I can. Call of the North? Called there by my son who studies there.

—Cecile Forman

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You Are Here: Mango Hawkers

Photo by Ikhlasul Amal.

They come in the summer, when the air begins to heat up. Women with coffee brown skin stand evenly distributed at the sizzling street corners of Union Square.
The mango ladies lean against their cart with tight and high ponytails. Sweaty faces and heavy lids are the only hints of tiredness. The carts are grimy, with a hint of metal underneath the rust, and creak beneath the weight of mangoes. Old plastic water bottles hold red spices. Green bottles contain lemon juice that will pucker your lips with one drop. And each mango is peeled and cut into slices before being unceremoniously dropped into the plastic bags that are strapped to the side of her cart. Continue Reading…
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Outlaws: Gunsmiths of Danao

Photo by Allan Chatto.

It takes approximately one week to make a 9mm in Danao in the Cebu Province of the Philippines. The city and its residents have been celebrated for their skill at fashioning firearms, ever since they crafted guns for the resistance effort against the Japanese in World War II. In the 1940s and early 1950s, farmers armed themselves amidst agrarian unrest and the Maoist insurgency that followed, hammering parts out of junk found in scrap heaps. Continue Reading…

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En Route: Xinjiang

Photo by Erin O’Brien.

At the entrance to China, there is a gate. A wrought-iron gate, complete with golden dragons, golden spikes, and not-so-golden barbed wire wringing its perimeter. It’s a gate to inspire awe, to remind those who see it that they are in China, and China is powerful, goddammit.

With the help of four officers in full fatigues, complete with bulletproof vests and too-shiny aviators, the gate slides open, revealing a perfectly paved, perfectly lined stretch of road, reaching into the Tian Shen Mountains. It’s a far cry from the potholed, blockaded road that leads to the gate from Kyrgyzstan. Continue Reading…

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En Route: Across the Amazon by Motorboat

Photo from Guentermanaus.

Two idle strangers stand and talk on a dock in the afternoon. The Negro River flows in front of them, wide and dark, nearly black. Behind them is Manaus, a city that hit its peak with the region’s rubber boom in the late 1800s. Once deemed “one of the gaudiest cities in the world,” it fell into a near-century of ruin after an Englishman smuggled rubber seeds out of the country. Plantations were established in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and tropical Africa, and Brazil lost its rubber monopoly.

One of the men takes a drag from his cigarette and says, “My girlfriend is a prostitute here in Manaus. I watch her little boy during the night while she’s out working.”

The other nods his head as a motorboat pulls up to the dock. He tells the boatman in Spanish, the closest he can get to Portuguese, that he wants to cross the river. The boatman tells him how much. Continue Reading…

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The Nostalgic Traveler: Hotel Normandie

Photo by Susan Harlan.

Part One: A Sunken Ship

In 1942, the SS Normandie ocean liner caught fire in the Hudson River and capsized at Pier 88. She sank into the mud. She had been seized by U.S. authorities during the war and renamed the USS Lafayette, so she was not the SS Normandie anymore when she sank. Although she was salvaged, she was too expensive to restore, and so she was thrown away. Continue Reading…

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